Friars Abroad: Fenwick Students Travel to Galápagos Islands

Ten Fenwick students and four teachers traveled to the Galápagos Islands over Easter Break! The group visited four islands, exploring and learning about the place where the modern theory of evolution was developed. Activities included snorkeling, kayaking, swimming and even hiking a volcano! The Friars also visited Quito, Ecuador and learned about its rich history.

AP Environmental Science student Declan O’Rourke ‘24 reflects on his trip in the guest blog below:

When looking throughout my experience at the Galápagos Islands, there are a variety of reasons as to why I wished to attend, including my deep love for science and the general opportunity to attend the trip. I would say the main reason I went is to witness the unique biodiversity of plants and animals – the opportunity to immerse yourself in the vast ranges of nature and experience similar wonders inspired by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Unlike anywhere else on Earth, the Galápagos Islands contain a plethora of varying species that can’t be seen anywhere else. Animals like the large tortoise, marine iguana, or even the blue-footed boobies are a foundation for what the island truly represents.

I have a great love for nature, and to experience snorkeling alongside sea turtles – or even sharks – is something that not many can say they’ve done before. Coinciding with the trip, I am taking AP Environmental Science, which has piqued my interest even more when looking at the evolutionary and geological concepts of the Galápagos Islands. To have first-hand experience with what I have learned during my freshman Biology class and my senior science class has allowed me to advance my knowledge of evolution.

What I learned from our trip to the Galápagos Islands comes down to several points that I felt resonated best with me. First, the unique adaptation of species within the island is quite impressive and outstanding, especially during the time of El Nino. To witness the vast amount of endemic species adjust to their isolated environment over hundreds of years gave me a better understanding of how amazing these animals are. Looking into their genetic diversity and how the species deal with different circumstances showed me what Charles Darwin witnessed when he was there nearly 200 years ago.

Second, many may overlook this aspect, but for myself, I gained a great deal of cultural insight when in both the Galápagos Islands and Ecuador. During my time, I was able to practice my Spanish-speaking abilities and experience a variety of cultural traditions that I was unaware of. The Ecuadorian culture was evident within the Galápagos Islands which included the food, music and diverse cultural heritage that is present within Ecuador. Our tour guide, Bolo, was born in the Galápagos Islands and was an exemplary teacher for our group. He was someone who helped me understand the culture within the Galápagos Islands and what his life was like when living there.

Lastly, the environmental awareness of maintaining a sustainable island became something I started noting for myself when on the trip. Looking at the sustainability practices that the island goes through to ensure the environment is kept secure gave me something to keep in the back of my mind during the trip. The actions of controlling the invasive species on the island interested me a great deal, especially when it came to protecting the native species on the island.

Many students may wonder why they should go on a trip to the Galápagos Islands. I have two reasons why you should consider going on a fantastic trip. First, you will more than likely never have an opportunity to go on a trip to witness nature like no other and see what this island has to offer. The adventure itself is once in a lifetime and you will be able to experience moments like no other. Second, you get the chance to undergo personal growth within yourself. I was able to witness the most glorious churches in Quito, Ecuador which was an experience that I will never be able to forget. You will have the chance to create a memorable experience that you will never forget. I can assure you that during your time in the Galápagos Islands, you will be able to have that everlasting experience.

Amy Mikel ’00: Brooklyn Librarian of the Year Reflects on Freedom to Read

April is School Library Month, and National Library Week begins April 7. Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) Director of Customer Experience Amy Mikel ‘00 spoke with her alma mater about the freedom to read, the importance of libraries and how the Fenwick community can support them.

Amy and four colleagues were named Library Journal’s Librarians of the Year in 2023 for their work in the Books UnBanned Program.

“I have a wonderful team and BPL is a wonderful organization,” Amy said. “People who work at BPL believe in the library’s mission and care deeply about the work that they do. Customer Service is an important and shared priority here.”

After graduating from Fenwick, the Valparaiso University alumna pursued a career in computer science before pivoting to librarianship, a move she calls “the perfect combination of teaching, culture and community-centered work.” She attended the University of Washington iSchool and has been working at BPL since 2012, serving in school outreach and civic engagement departments. Amy now oversees the library’s collection, circulation policies and procedures and generally works to ensure that the patron experience is “welcoming, easy and consistent across all our 61 branch locations and digital touch-points.”

“This kind of work can be challenging, because I always have a lot of balls in the air at one time, but that is also what I enjoy about it. My work stays varied and interesting. Every day I learn something new,” she said. “I love my job and I genuinely feel that it’s just the right fit for me, my background and my skill set. Working in library administration/operations means that I have the privilege and opportunities to address big-picture issues that can have a lasting impact on our staff and our patrons.”

Through addressing issues like the recent spike in efforts to remove or restrict books from classrooms and libraries across the country, Amy has crossed professional paths with fellow Fenwick graduate John Chatska ‘88, who serves as Executive Director of EveryLibrary. The organization supports libraries and helps fight book banning in the U.S., work Amy calls “crucial.”

Below, Amy reflects on how Fenwick families, alumni and staff can do their part to support libraries and raise awareness for the freedom to read.

The most basic thing that students, parents, and educators can do is to defend the freedom to read.

Reflect on the freedom to read. What does that mean to you? How has having the freedom to read personally benefited you? How does it benefit the broader community at large?

Protect it when you see it threatened. Vocalize its importance and the benefits. Lifelong learning, and fostering a growth mindset is important. Learning about things that are new, or different, or strange is important.

Having access to a diversity of perspectives is important, as is learning how to think critically about what you believe and why. Having access to someone who can help you navigate your reading options based on what you like and care about is important. Having independent choice is crucially important as young children grow into tweens, and from young adults to adults. We may make different choices about what we choose to read, but we cannot force those choices onto others.

Libraries provide a wonderful window to the world and allow for exploration and discovery – books can reflect a reader’s world back to them or they can open a window to something new. Both are crucially important for our young people as they seek to learn about the world and about themselves. There are professional frameworks that those working in education and in libraries use to determine the reading materials that end up in the classroom and on library shelves, and parents do have a choice and a role to play in their child’s education. 

Fenwick students, parents, educators, and alumni can support the freedom to read by supporting libraries – both school and public libraries. Without access to libraries, many will not have the freedom to read. 

The Fenwick community can build awareness by talking openly about the benefits of reading freely, our first amendment rights (including the right to express our opinions) and what barriers we may be erecting to take the right to read, learn or speak away from others. The American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement says, “We believe that free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture. We believe that these pressures toward conformity present the danger of limiting the range and variety of inquiry and expression on which our democracy and our culture depend.”

I believe that learning how to learn, how to think critically, and how to interrogate our assumptions about the world and others is more important now than ever. Libraries are here for you, but we have to protect them – protect their right to exist, protect their mission to provide information freely, and speak up when we see libraries and library workers threatened.

James Krag ’80: From Blackfriars Guild to Broadway

James Krag ‘80 returns to Fenwick High School this Lent for a free performance of “According to Mark,” the Gospel of Mark in spoken word.

A professional actor with decades of experience on stage and screen, Mr. Krag has most recently performed at Drury Lane and Farmers Alley Theatre, playing roles in “A Christmas Carol” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

He believes his years at Fenwick laid the foundation for his thespian future: “I have always said that out of all the projects I have been involved with throughout my career, none of them provided me with the pure joy I received from the shows at Fenwick. Doing shows with Mr. [Roger] Finnell taught me the basics of stagecraft and being on stage. Having the opportunity to sing, dance, emcee and write skits for Banua gave me a taste of what a theatre career would be.”

Performing in shows like “Guys and Dolls” during his years in Blackfriars Theatre Guild also helped him “build the confidence and poise needed to perform in front of an audience.” He took those qualities to Steppenwolf Theatre and eventually to Broadway, understudying the role of Larry in Landford Wilson’s “Burn This” alongside John Malkovich and Joan Allen.

“My journey to Broadway can be described as unbelievably lucky, or simply being in the right place at the right time – and being prepared,” Mr. Krag said. “I was a young actor working as an understudy [during] Steppenwolf’s heyday, when they first began doing the exciting shows that put them on the map…I wasn’t expecting anything to come out of it, I just wanted to learn.”

He saw every rehearsal and performance of “Burn This” in Chicago before being asked to understudy one of the play’s four characters six months into its Manhattan run. “I arrived in New York, dove into rehearsals, and two weeks later I was performing. I stayed with the show for the rest of the run, continuing to do performances when needed. It was glorious.”

He went on to originate the roles of EKO in the Pulitzer Prize finalist “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” and Sandy in “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel” by Mitch Albom of “Tuesdays with Morrie” fame. In addition to his onscreen work in “While You Were Sleeping,” “Mercury Rising,” “Ellen” and “Chicago PD,” he starred in “Romeo and Juliet” at Oak Park Festival Theatre.

Bringing this production of “According to Mark” to Fenwick was important to Mr. Krag, who collaborated with director Jeff Christian to bring Mark’s gospel to life on stage. Their goal is to present the story “as if it might have been first heard” by early Christians.

“I tried to forget everything I knew about the story of Jesus and approach the gospel fresh. I found Jesus as described by Mark to be very human and complex. He is at points boisterous, lighthearted, sure of himself, loving, in your face, petulant, angry and frightened.”

Mr. Krag believes Mark’s Gospel “has all the elements of great storytelling: a strong leader, humorous sidekicks, villains, intrigue and great tragedy…I guarantee the audience will hear things differently than they have ever before.”

“According to Mark” will be performed Tuesday, March 26 at 7 p.m. in Fenwick’s Roger A. Finnell Auditorium. Registration is required for this free event.

Women’s History Month: Fenwick Alumnae in Sports

In celebration of International Women’s Day and the beginning of spring athletics season, Fenwick High School is highlighting the work of alumnae who entered the sports field after high school. Many of these accomplished women say Fenwick played a major role in their eventual career paths, laying a foundation for not only achieving professional success but also living well-rounded lives.

From public relations and marketing to journalism and merchandising, these Friars continue to lead, achieve and serve in the world of sports.

Sheena Quinn ‘00
Senior Director of Public Relations
Chicago White Sox

“Fenwick was such a formative part of my upbringing and development,” said Sheena Quinn ‘00, who has served as Senior Director of Public Relations for the White Sox since 2014. “I loved sports, specifically basketball, and the time that I spent in the classroom combined with my team through the women’s basketball program helped me form important value systems, work ethic and lifelong friendships. I am grateful for the opportunity to work in sports, and I certainly think some of those values started at Fenwick.”

The Marquette University graduate handles integrated communications and public relations efforts for the team, including corporate communications, organizational reputation management and multicultural community outreach. She helped launch multiple diversity and inclusion initiatives, including the BasebALL: One Game for All fan campaign and Game Changers, an annual program “focused on celebrating individual differences and inclusivity” through sports.

“Baseball gives so much more to people than just wins and losses on the field. It offers a chance to make memories that you can have forever.”

While her contributions toward diversity and inclusion are among her proudest achievements, “the memory that I will always keep close is creating an extra special day for Friar alumna, Christina (Leonardo) Nelson ‘00, and her family during Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month in September. On those days in particular, I understand that baseball gives so much more to people than just wins and losses on the field. It offers a chance to make memories that you can have forever.”

Quinn said she marvels at the impact the franchise has on its fans and their lives. “In my role, there are so many moments during which I am in awe…It’s incredible to see how strangers, pulling for the same team, can sit next to one another and immediately form a bond over a shared love for one organization. I’m fortunate to have earned a role with the Chicago White Sox – the same team that my dad and grandfather loved…I understand that not every person is able to say that, and I’m grateful to be in a position to say that.”

She advises current Friars to “take advantage of every opportunity,” encouraging those interested in pursuing sports-related careers to “gain experience, add to your portfolio and expand your network.” 

“For those just getting started in their careers, I always share some advice that another executive who I admire told me once: Try to be a problem solver, and not just a problem identifier, when you can,” Quinn said. “Be willing to offer a solution and help carry it out…Don’t just point out the speed bumps.”

Colleen Quinn ‘09
Director, Communications & Digital Marketing
United Center

Colleen Quinn ‘09 has spent 10 years working at the United Center, the largest arena in North America. She currently serves as Director of Communications & Digital Marketing, overseeing digital marketing campaigns, communications strategy and execution, campus expansion planning and event acquisition bid development.

The most rewarding aspect of this work is “the variety and limitless opportunity,” Quinn said. “At the United Center, every day is a new day. We could have a Chicago Bulls game one day and a Harry Styles’ LOVE ON TOUR residency beginning the next. Today, I will work on event acquisition for future years of NCAA Championship events at the arena. Tomorrow, I will work on the upcoming media logistics tour in support of the 2024 Democratic National Convention. I’m grateful for the ability in my role to cover such a wide range of the business and strategy.”

As a member of WISE Chicago (Women in Sports & Events), she advocates for women working in live events and coordinated the organization’s first celebration of women in the workplace. She credits her high school experience with paving the way toward these endeavors.

“Fenwick High School’s long standing values to lead, achieve and serve has been the foundation of my path to success in my career. The education, the discipline and the network I developed in my time at Fenwick and the years following has consistently been a pivotal driver for achievement in my career.” 

Her memories of Fenwick also steered her toward pursuing a career in sports after attending Purdue University. “From flying to the east coast every weekend to see my brother play college football, traveling to Southern Illinois to watch my sister [Sheena] compete with the Friars in the IHSA Basketball Championship or running the track with my teammates in preparation for an upcoming meet, sports has always been a major player in my life and upbringing,” Quinn said. “My passion for the world of sports paired together with my learned discipline and work ethic made the sports and entertainment industry the perfect fit for my career.”

Quinn encourages current Friars to “be bold” as they navigate their college decisions and future careers. “Whether it’s speaking up in a room of colleagues that have differing opinions or paving the way to bring an innovative idea to fruition, speak up. The world needs to hear your perspective, no matter the scale.”

Sarah Lorenzi ‘97
Chicago Area Alternative Education League (CAAEL)

Sarah Lorenzi ‘97 and her sister Katie Martin Trendel ‘00 left behind their previous occupations to serve the Chicago Area Alternative Education League (CAAEL), founded by their father John Martin in 1976. He passed away in 2017 after more than four decades helping provide interscholastic activities for at-risk and special education students from several counties in Illinois. Lorenzi stepped in as President and CEO, while Trendel began serving as a program administrator in 2018 after years as Sports Director at the Pav YMCA in Berwyn.

“I felt that CAAEL was my calling,” said Lorenzi, who spent 13 years as a teacher in Oak Park before joining the team at her father’s nonprofit a year before his passing. “I knew I wanted to do something bigger. I wanted to help more than just the students in my class. I felt like I needed to step away from my teaching career to run CAAEL alongside my father because he was slowing down, and [the organization] continued to grow organically…it was becoming too large for just one person. I feel so grateful and blessed to have had that time with him, as he taught me all I needed to know about CAAEL.”

CAAEL offers more than 1,000 events throughout the school year, including sports, academic bowls and other extracurricular activities. The organization provides alternative school educators with athletic and educational programming to keep students motivated and engaged during the school day. 

“It gives them an opportunity to be a part of a team, opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Lorenzi said. “Knowing I’m making a difference in this world, all while honoring my dad’s legacy, is incredibly rewarding.”

She hopes current Fenwick students will consider “following your heart” when deciding on a field of study. “If you are passionate about it, the rest will fall into place.”

Karli Bell ‘12
Chicago Sky Reporter
Chicago Cubs Digital Content Producer/Editor

A multimedia sports journalist at Marquee Sports Network, Karli Bell ‘12 launched the monthly program “Chicago Sky: No Limits,” the first of its kind featuring a WNBA team. Producing long-form content about Cubs and Sky players and fans, Bell says her passion for creating sports-related content stems from her years at Fenwick.

“A basketball injury had me reevaluate my career choice…I couldn’t just walk away from sports when I was injured,” said Bell. “I loved speaking and multimedia, so I created what is now Fenwick Television in 2010 to give students an opportunity to get hands-on experience with multimedia before the take off of the social media age. I wanted to create a space that encourages creativity, expression and storytelling while getting early hands-on experience before going off to college.”

The Ohio University graduate said a highlight of her work is “meeting all different types of people from different places and backgrounds and stories…Athletes are an amalgamation of general human society, and I love telling people’s stories and understanding their journey to how they got here. You learn a lot about someone when you just ask a couple questions, and having the opportunity to tell their story is an honor.”

Bell encourages young Friars with hopes of entering sports media to “network like crazy” and understand the unusual schedules and commitments that come with a life in journalism. “I’m insanely blessed that I get paid to watch and talk about sports, no matter what the pay – that is the mindset you need to have if you want to work in sports.”

Laura (Hibbitts) Baller ’02
Credit Supervisor
Wilson Sporting Goods

Though sports were not a central aspect of her Fenwick experience, Laura (Hibbits) Baller ‘02 said her time in high school and participation in Blackfriars Theatre Guild gave her the foundation she needed to take a risk in her professional life.

“My years at Fenwick gave me the confidence to pursue a career that was initially out of my comfort zone. I can’t imagine being anywhere else now,” Baller said of Wilson Sporting Goods, where she has worked since graduating from college. “The amount of enthusiasm and dedication to our brand blows me away every day. Wilson has such a rich history and it’s great to see how far we’ve come and where we’re headed.”

She encouraged her fellow Friar and classmate Megan McInerney ‘02 to join the People & Culture team, on which she now serves as director, spearheading Wilson’s “Inside the Huddle” learning program.

Megan McInerney ‘02
Director, People & Culture
Wilson Sporting Goods

“Building something from the ground up and seeing the impact that the program has had across the company has been incredibly rewarding,” McInerney said. “It’s exciting to work for a company that empowers me to learn, grow, and win.”

“A big part of living like an athlete isn’t even physical – it’s the qualities and characteristics that make the best athletes who they are.

McInerney’s Fenwick years contributed toward this mentality and Wilson’s mission to “empower every human to live like an athlete,” she said. “Playing a sport in high school taught me a lot about being an athlete, and the traits of an athlete – like an innate desire to win and having a team mentality – naturally carry over to the business world, especially when you work in the sporting goods industry.”

She encourages young Friars to “be open minded” as they consider their post-high school lives. “You don’t necessarily have to play sport professionally or work for a team to pursue a career in the sports field. In fact, a big part of living like an athlete isn’t even physical – it’s the qualities and characteristics that make the best athletes who they are. It’s the grit and determination to do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal. It’s acting with integrity, humility, and heart in all that you do.”

Baller agrees, urging current Fenwick students to “be patient” as they continue their academics. “Be dedicated. Feel empowered. You might take some hits, but always get back up. Every pro starts off as a rookie.”

Ashley Beth ‘14
Associate Legal Counsel 
National Women’s Soccer League

Ashley Beth ‘14 spent three years playing for a historic Fenwick soccer team, which eventually  “translated into a dream career in the sports industry.” She now works as associate legal counsel for the National Women’s Soccer League.

“I am part of a small group of individuals who get to dedicate their careers to navigating the unique challenges presented in women’s sports,” Beth said. “The decisions we make at the most prominent women’s professional sports league are shaping the future for women’s sports and for women generally. It is a dream come true, and we are just getting started at the NWSL.”

“Competition, community and achievement were integral attributes of my experience at Fenwick, both in athletics and academics.”

Being a student athlete directly fuels her current work as an attorney. “I have always been passionate about the fundamental attributes of sports – competition, community, and achievement,” the Loyola University School of Law graduate said. “All were integral attributes of my experience at Fenwick, both in athletics and academics.”

Her role at the NWSL “combines everything I love,” a fact she calls “fortunate” but which required “persistence” and dedication, qualities she encourages current Fenwick students to emulate. 

“It took me three years of applying for an internship at the NWSL to be offered an interview. Since then, I have had four different titles within the League in just two years to get to my current position that I desired to achieve…I worked in all levels of athletics in some regard, and used different skill sets in each role.  Be open to taking a position that may not be the ‘perfect’ role.”

Brianna McCormick ‘16
Athletes in Action
Campus Ministry Staff

Brianna McCormick ’16 (second from right) with Athletes in Action students.

As a two-sport college athlete playing softball and running cross country at Roosevelt University, Brianna’s “faith was ignited and built up” through the resources provided by Athletes in Action, and she now serves on their Campus Ministry Staff. The branch of Cru works directly with current college student athletes in “sharing the gospel and helping them develop their faith and walk with the Lord through the context, culture and language of sport.”

Athletes in Action “laid the foundation for me in knowing how to have a relationship with Jesus…within the culture and context of being a collegiate athlete,” she said. She calls their impact “pivotal” to her personal growth, “not only as a follower of Christ but as an athlete and a student in college.”

Fenwick also played a role in her eventual pursuits, combining her athletic career with her faith life. 

“Looking back, I can now see how a lot of these foundations and curiosities about Jesus were sparked in high school by being in an academic setting that put high value in integrating faith into the Friar’s daily life,” she said. “Theology classes, as well as my experience as a peer tutor, revealed my gift of teaching others and having a desire to make God known. Combine those gifts with my love for sports and I truly think the work I’m doing with Athletes in Action is a perfect fit.”

She enjoys “seeing the impact” embracing faith can have on young athletes: “Seeing students strive to live more like Christ is really’s rewarding to be a small part of that process. Playing your sport for God brings a whole new level of freedom when the pressure is taken off of you and your performance. It instead is a reflection of using your gifts to honor God.”

McCormick wants current Friars to “pursue a career path that you enjoy – even if it’s not something you studied or that matches your degree.”

Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth “Libby” (Robertson) Kincanon ’96

A middle school teacher in the Westchester School District, Libby Kincanon ‘96 has been coaching the Fenwick Speech Team for nearly two decades. Earlier this year, she and fellow coach Geralyn Magrady cheered Team Captain Alex Lefko ‘24 all the way to IHSA State Competition in the category of Radio Speaking.

“Ms. Magrady and I could not be more proud of Alex and her success this year,” Kincanon said. “Alex’s voice is smooth, articulate and empathetic as she presents the news. Her great success is a tribute to her exceptional skill and hard work.”

It was a full-circle moment for Kincanon, who was the last female Friar to compete at State back in 1995.

“I loved theater, speaking, acting, and humor,” she said of her years on the “hugely successful” Fenwick Speech and Debate Team, on which she competed in five categories over four years. She was also involved in volleyball, swimming and water polo, in addition to the Wick, Campus Ministry and Blackfriars Guild. “Fenwick was an exceptional educational experience for me, filled with high demands and creativity. I gained confidence in my learning that far exceeded anything up until that point … and I met my lifelong best friends at Fenwick.”

The last two female Fenwick Friars to compete at state for Speech: Alex Lefko ’24 and Coach Libby Kincanon ’96.

After spending time with Teach for America in Los Angeles, she returned to volunteer at Fenwick in 2006 following the passing of Coach Judy Speer.

“Those first years, it was hard to recruit after Ms. Speer’s passing. Ms. Emily Anderson used to put sign-up sheets for me on the first floor and then text me who signed up and when,” Kincanon said of her early coaching days. “I have coached after school two times a week ever since. Now we have students who have transferred to Fenwick because of the Speech Team and chose Fenwick because we offer Speech and their second choice did not.”

The team has seen success through adversity in her years of coaching, going to IHSA Sectionals in 17 of her 18 years with the program. “Even in COVID, when we switched to online live competitions, our students were in the final rounds every single time” despite facing schools with larger teams. 

Fenwick Speech has continued to be a top priority in her life. Even as “a wife and busy mom of three extremely active kids,” Kincanon has never missed a tournament or practice, traveling to Washington, Albany, Omaha, Sacramento “and everything in between” for Catholic Nationals. (“Sometimes my kids have even served as mascots for the team!”)

The most rewarding aspect of this work is “sharing my passion and the gift of speaking with fellow Fenwick Friars (some whose parents were my classmates) … [it] allows this busy mom and proud alumni a chance to relive the ‘good ol days’ with pleasure.”

Her passion for speech class and competition stems from its importance as a life skill and aspect of Fenwick’s college preparatory curriculum.

“Learning how to speak, present, write, perform, collaborate, and communicate is imperative for future success,” Kincanon said. “Ms. Magrady exemplifies this in her class. In a world where we rely on abridged text communication, speaking and listening are crucially-needed 21st Century skills. I hope more students continue to join the program and embrace the team. In the words of Sandy Rose, ‘Have fun and learn lots!’ I make sure to say that at every tournament, and I hope each student who has gone through the program does both.”

Ms. Geralyn Magrady, Alex Lefko ’24 and Mrs. Libby Kincanon ’96 at IHSA Sectionals.

Fenwick Cheerleaders Continue Historic Run

The highest-scoring team in school history is making a push toward state for the first time in 11 years.

The highest-scoring cheerleading team in Fenwick history is headed for sectionals. The Friars continue their momentous season January 27 at Rolling Meadows High School, competing for the chance to move on to the IHSA State Final in February.

“We are excited to showcase our hard work and continue to make history as the first team to head to IHSA state in a decade,” said Head Coach Carlotta (Battelli) Fleming ‘13. As a student athlete, she competed on Fenwick’s first-ever state-bound cheer team. “My goal now is to give the winning title over to the athletes I coach.”

Coach Carlotta Fleming, then and now.

Those athletes became the Friars’ highest-placing team ever at the ICCA State Finals earlier this season. They also posted a record-setting score during the Fremd Snowdown Invitational on Jan. 20. “The competition team has been working hard since June, and we continue to improve our score and spirit at competitions every weekend,” said Brooke Henrichs ‘24.

“The energy of the team this week has been great,” Alyssa Ruffolo ‘24 said in the lead-up to sectionals. “We are all so excited to be a part of the historic season and have been working extremely hard to get here…I’m most excited about making sure that we just have fun on the mat and do our best.”

Varsity and JV at Catholic League Conference competition.

“Building a family” has been the key to the Friars’ success this season, according to Fleming. “These athletes love and trust one another. Without those two things, we couldn’t practice safely, let alone be a winning team.”

Henrichs adds that the team has “never been closer” in her four years of cheerleading for Fenwick. “This program continues to grow…not only in skills and size, but also in confidence with the help of Coach Carlotta, Coach [Diane] Sabbia and Coach Sydney [Kozyra Jentel ‘15]. They believed in us. They set high expectations because they knew we could accomplish any goal we set for ourselves. We could not have done any of this without them, and the incessant energy and inspirational quotes every day by Coach Sabbia.”

Fleming also credits her fellow coaches with helping “find new and creative solutions to move the team forward,” along with the close-knit community of Friar cheerleading alumnae like Coach Kelly (Close) Dolan ‘01. “She continues even today to be my mentor and guide…she was also an alumna who poured her heart and soul into making the team she called home a success.” (Echoes Henrichs: “Once a Friar Cheerleader, always a Friar Cheerleader.”)

Cheer celebrating with the dance team after their performance.

The Priory Campus became the team’s designated practice space last winter. “Having a dedicated location and time slot has created a consistency that is key to our program’s success and our athletes’ academic success as well,” Fleming said, noting that every athlete on the squad had the best academic semester of their high school careers last year. (They ended the season with a team average GPA of 4.06.)

Though coaches look forward to growing the program in the future – planning an incoming freshman workshop and kids’ camp in the spring – they have been inspired by the leadership qualities of this season’s seniors. All five team members from the Class of 2024 received the Senior Scholar Award, recognizing their work on the mat and in the classroom: Henrichs, Ruffolo, Genevieve Morrissey, Josie Mayerhofer and Jada Onrubia.

“We could not have gotten anywhere without the trust and commitment of our seniors,” Fleming said. “These athletes began their Fenwick career in the midst of a pandemic and a coaching change. Their dedication to the betterment of the program and the support of the athletes younger than them is something I’d love to highlight. To my varsity five, thank you.”

Fenwick cheerleaders and Senior Scholar Award winners from the Class of 2024.

Endowed Scholarship Fund to Honor ‘Legendary’ Swim Coach Dan O’Brien

Fenwick High School is proud to announce a matching challenge to establish the Mr. Dan O’Brien Endowed Scholarship Fund. Aquatics alum Neal Armstrong ’63 presented a $50,000 matching challenge in honor of the longtime swim coach’s legacy of excellence in Friar Aquatics.

Read Armstrong’s reflections on the legacy of Mr. O’Brien, who spent more than five decades at Fenwick:

There can be no other person in Fenwick’s history that exemplifies the dedication and loyalty exhibited by Mr. O’Brien. 

Most are aware of his coaching prowess, but often overlooked was his influence encouraging individuals’ excellence both on the podium as well as educational pursuits. He was there for all of us as we pursued further education, competition, summer jobs and careers. Thanks to his help and guidance, he was ultimately responsible for many of us financing our education. It is only appropriate that we should help pay forward in honor of his legacy.

From the first day I entered Fenwick, I remember an atmosphere of participation in success. We wanted to be part of that success, and jumped at the opportunities that were presented to us. Mr. O’Brien scoured the gym classes to find potential members for his teams. I remember a kid that didn’t make the cut, but was still welcomed after he expressed a desire to be a part of his program. He toiled along with the other selected potential members in that outside lane, while the experienced competitors worked in the remainder of the pool. I remember Mr. O’Brien spending the time coaching each of the “outside lane” guys individually to bring out any potential.

After learning the trade, we were eventually elevated to the regular workouts to compete along with the experienced team members. I remember being proud and thankful of the efforts when this kid was awarded a conference gold medal, All-American recognition and a college scholarship.

Mr. O’Brien never forgot us. Twenty-five years later at my father’s wake, there was Mr. O’Brien, honoring our father and giving solace to our family.

I always have a little sly smile when I hear him referred to as the Dobber or even coach. He was Mr. O’Brien. Yes, we even referred to him as the Dobber, but he earned our respect and made sure he never heard us say anything but “Mr.”

Learn more about establishing the Mr. Dan O’Brien Endowed Scholarship Fund.

Fenwick Bowlers Off to Strong Start

Coach Austin Aldridge began his first season as head coach of the Fenwick Bowling Teams earlier this year. He joins the Friar program after nine years working with the Hillside Youth Junior League, training bowlers from ages four to 18.

With the help of assistant coaches Tyler Kenny, Michelle Walker and Giovanni Casimer, girls’ varsity bowling is “off to a great start,” winning all three games in their first competition. The boys’ team is working its way back to full strength after a majority of last season’s bowlers graduated in May. “We have been rebuilding well, [but] we definitely would love to have more athletes that are interested in joining the team,” Aldridge said.

“The chemistry and energy of both teams has been amazing,” the coach said of the group of 14 Friar bowlers. “They have so much fun together, so much faith in each other’s abilities and do such a great job of encouraging [and] cheering each other on. They feel very comfortable with voicing opinions with each other to assist in any way possible to be successful.”

Olivia Cameron ‘25 has “played a major role in the team’s success thus far,” according to her new coach. She made history last year as the first female bowler in Fenwick history to qualify for state finals, but Aldridge believes her “incredible scores” (and 216 average) are exceeded by her team leadership. “She has taken on the team leader role and loves to share her knowledge and experiences of the sport with her teammates. She has consistently come through in clutch situations to seal victories.”

On the boys’ side, “Connor Walsh is definitely someone to watch out for,” Aldridge said of the sophomore, who leads the team with a 161 average. Benicio Carideo ‘25 is close behind with 153, adding more than 30 pins to his average from last year. JR Welshons ‘27 is new to competitive bowling but has more than doubled his average to an “astonishing” 121.

“We’re definitely on the move and with hopes of progressing enough to take both teams all the way to state competition,” Aldridge said.

A lifelong avid bowler with a history of competing nationally, Aldridge comes from a family of bowlers – including his 12-year-old daughter Savannah, who averages a 160 score and is already competing in national tournaments.

“I have a passion for coaching, and I love to see the progression of the athletes’ improvement over time,” Aldridge said. “My goal is to create a culture that inspires greatness, encourages team motivation and elevates overall performance to unlock the fullest potential to be successful.”

Fathers & Daughters of Fenwick: In Their Words

Friar alumnae and their fathers share perspectives on Fenwick in this online supplement to the fall edition of the Friar Reporter.

Amy Hammer ’99:

I didn’t feel that my experience as a “female Friar” was any different than any other Friar, which I suppose is a testament to Fenwick seamlessly integrating the female population into the student body. I was challenged academically, prepared well for college and given opportunities inside and outside of the classroom that allowed me to explore interests and become a well-rounded individual.  

One of my favorite teachers, who I still remember to this day, is Mr. Williams. He taught me computer programming for three years, first in Pascal and then C++ (yes, it was the late ’90s).  I knew nothing about computers when I started in his class except how to type on one, but he was patient, thorough, and pushed me to excel. He challenged me in ways that I hadn’t previously been challenged and seemed genuinely happy for me when I was able to achieve new skills. It was a male-dominated class and a precursor to what I would experience in college, but Mr. Williams didn’t treat me any differently than any of the young men in the class, giving me confidence that I could pursue any degree that I wanted. 

“I didn’t feel that my experience as a ‘female Friar’ was any different than any other Friar.”

Amy Hammer ’99

I was a cheerleader for football and boys’ basketball during all of my years at Fenwick. When I was a junior, our varsity basketball team featured Corey Magette and went downstate for the playoffs. It was a very exciting time for the entire school, and the cheerleading squad felt no differently. However, we soon found out that while Fenwick was paying for the basketball team to stay in a hotel downstate and allocating tickets for parents of the basketball team, there were no such benefits for the cheerleaders or our parents. This seemed like an injustice. In our view, it was important that we were at the game to represent our school, as we had all season, and that our parents be there to support us. My mom called the school to explain this position. Despite not having the initial foresight, Fenwick, to their credit, made sure that all of the cheerleaders’ parents had tickets to the games downstate. They also paid for the cheerleaders to stay in a hotel near the arena where the downstate games were held. However, when we arrived, we discovered it was actually a motel that was not nearly as nice as the one where the basketball team stayed, which was a disappointment. It was a step in the right direction, but there was still room for improvement. When I see Fenwick news these days, I always smile when I see the success that the cheerleaders and pom squads are having and the support that Fenwick gives them. I hope that what we did in the late ’90s was a small block on which they were able to build. 

At Fenwick, I learned how to study and take the right coursework and steps for academic success. I also learned how to interact with and get along people from a lot of different backgrounds. I was the only person from my grade school that attended Fenwick, so everyone was new to me, and I soon learned that many people in my classes came from families, homes, and experiences that were different than mine. I think these daily interactions benefited me in the long run. My dad mentioned that he thinks he learned how to listen while at Fenwick, and I agree with that sentiment. But I also think I learned how to talk to people at Fenwick — talk to people who were not just my friends, but all people regardless of what we initially had in common. In fact, at Fenwick, I think I learned that by talking to people outside of your bubble, you can often find commonalities between all of us, which helps to build relationships and bonds that can benefit everyone.  

After graduating from Fenwick in 1999, I went to Northwestern and graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering in 2003. After college, I went to law school and graduated from John Marshall in Chicago (now UIC) in 2006. I began working for a Chicago-based intellectual property law firm as a summer associate and then as an associate, practicing patent law. My firm merged with a national general practice firm in 2008, where I eventually became a partner. After many years (and a global pandemic), I transitioned back to a small intellectual property firm based in North Carolina that allows me to work remotely to help me balance my time with my three young kids.

Amy Hammer ’99 and Bill Hammer ’71.

Bill Hammer ’71:

Amy always was gifted academically and worked extremely hard to study and excel in school work. The fact that classes were now co-ed raised the academic level at Fenwick. I was the first person in my family to go to college, and Fenwick was a big part of that path. I wanted my daughter to think college was not something that might happen for her but was where she was expecting to go. Fenwick gave her those skills to succeed.

Amy went all in at Fenwick. She loved the sports and the traditions. She did cheerleading. She played softball. She was in Blackfriars Guild. She was in the band. She did very well in mathematics and computers. Her freshman year, which was my son’s senior year, the class valedictorian was a female student. The ladies excelled at Fenwick.

Fenwick is a place that competition was not a bad word. Sports and curricular activities are as important as the academics to make a well-rounded person. Learning how to study is a very important life skill that Fenwick helps nurture by its strong academics. Fenwick teaches social responsibility and how people need to help people that need help.

One of the skills I learned that I have used all my life is to listen to what the person talking to you is saying. Listening served me well in my career in relating to my customers’ needs. In class at Fenwick my teachers were, for the most part, great lecturers and I learned to listen to what they were saying. Putting in the effort to accomplish a goal was also learned at Fenwick. Teachers challenged you to be better than you thought was possible. Family has always been important to me. Having my daughter and son attend Fenwick was important to me and my wife.

I am retired after working in industrial sales for over 45 years. I retired as a Business Development Manager for Nord Drivesystems. When I joined them in 1983, they were a startup German company here in the USA. They are now a billion dollars in sales globally.

Having my daughter and son attend Fenwick was important to me and my wife.

Bill Hammer ’71

Editor’s Note: Bill’s son, fellow alumnus Jason Hopkinson ’96, graduated from Tulane University (NOLA), where he also attended law school. “He lived in New Orleans through Hurricane Katrina and the gulf oil spill,” Bill reports. Jason worked as a public defender there before returning to the Chicago area. He now has an office in Downers Grove, IL, working for himself with a focus on real-estate, trusts and criminal law.  

Corcoran family Friars sport their class rings.

John Corcoran ’87:

I remember hearing about Fenwick going coed right when I was getting married and planning on starting a family. It made me happy to know that if I had daughters, they would be able to have the same advantage of a Fenwick education that I did.

[Daughters] Bridget and Colleen were very active as Friars. They both participated in Irish dance at BANUA, were Eucharist Ministers and were members of the Poms team. Bridget also played girls’ soccer. Colleen did Best Buddies, Student Council, Math Team, was a Kairos [retreat] leader and helped start the Dance Showcase.

In a number of these clubs, both Bridget and Colleen were able to experience taking leadership roles. Colleen also reflected that it was eye opening to learn from teachers like Ms. Esposito, who went through the first female class, and see just how recent and relevant it was that the integration happened.

Editor’s Note: John Corcoran retired from advertising and now a is Chicagoland realtor, bagpipe instructor for the famous Shannon Rovers (and the Fenwick Bagpipe Club, which is in its second year!) As a piper, John is on tour with “Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret,” a stage play sponsored by the Gary Sinise Foundation. Cindy, John’s wife and “Friar by marriage,” is a Catholic school teacher as St. Andrew the Apostle (Romeoville, IL) and, he says, “is eligible to be inducted to the ‘Best Friar Football Mom’ Hall of Fame!” 

It made me happy to know that if I had daughters, they would be able to have the same advantage of a Fenwick education that I did.

John Corcoran ’87

Erin Vondrasek Mongano ’07:

Having a strong work ethic, moral compass or sense of right and wrong, and sense of community are all Fenwick attributes that transcend gender. Having high expectations for ourselves was definitely something instilled at Fenwick, and that success, both personally and professionally, should also always include a servant element and be morally guided. I think we also learned a lot of resiliency and grit at Fenwick and how to use critical thinking to problem solve, which has served us all well.”

Editor’s Note: Erin’s dad, Jim (Fenwick Class of ’84) retired, after a successful career in investment banking, to New Buffalo, MI, where he owns a construction company that builds single-family homes. Grandfather Bob (Class of ’57) also is a Friar and former banker who is enjoying retirement in west-suburban Naperville, IL. Erin lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband and our daughter: a hopeful fourth-generation future Friar, Class of 2040!

Top row: Nick Rankin and the Vondraseks: Rachel ’12, Jim ’84, Jimmy ’09, Mark ’85 and Nancy. Front row: Maria Vondrasek Tala ’12, Erin Vondrasek Mangano ’07, Bobby Vondrasek and Jenna Vondrasek Rankin ’11.

Rob Polston ’91:

I believe the values of faith, commitment and competition instilled in me at Fenwick are shared by my sons, Alec ’17, Jack ’18, Nick ’21 and Topher ’26. My daughter Olivia graduated in 2023.

Olivia excelled for the same reasons all successful grads make it at Fenwick. A drive to be her best and the support and competition from peers who drive each other to succeed and push themselves. As our yearbook motto said: faster, higher, stronger.

My initial reaction to Fenwick going co-ed was mixed. I had a great experience – why mess with a good thing? But then I thought “why not?” I was the editor-in-chief of the yearbook, and we asked the school what they thought. The reactions were similar. Nostalgia for tradition, but open to a new way forward for Fenwick.

In 15 years as CEO of higher educational companies, my focus on the the quality of what we bring our students comes my value system I learned at Fenwick. Great educators focus not on the professional skills and knowledge that their institution offers, but also the personal development that makes students into leaders. Fenwick is a success because it builds the leaders who can change the future for themselves and those around them.

The Polston family: Jack ’18, Nicholas ’21, Alec ’17, Christopher ’26 and Olivia ’23.

Featured image: Ciara Hopkinson ’16 and Jim Hopkinson ’77.

Friars Forge Bonds with Argentine Visitors

Fenwick families hosted 10 students from Buenos Aires this month.

Ten students from Colegio Champagnat in Buenos Aires, Argentina visited Fenwick High School this month as part of an exchange program developed by Spanish teacher Crissy Lilek ‘05. Argentine visitors spent more than a week shadowing 11 Fenwick junior and senior hosts, staying with their families and immersing themselves in American life and culture.

In addition to attending Fenwick classes and participating in extracurricular activities, the group explored Chicagoland over the course of their stay. They made visits to the Willis Tower and Six Flags Great America, counting Navy Pier and the United Center among their favorite attractions and bagels, cinnamon rolls and deep dish pizza as the best cuisine.

Colegio Champagnat students have been studying the English language since second grade. In presentations before Fenwick Spanish classes, they gave background on their neighborhood in the city of Buenos Aires, along with information on Argentine geography and history. Students learned about the similarities in their government and pastimes, noting differences in climate and school schedules.

Fenwick hosts were eager to hear about their visitors’ 12-hour journey to the U.S and how they feel about famed Argentine footballer Lionel Messi playing for Major League Soccer in the states. (They’re OK with it.) Classes also sampled a traditional Argentine mate drink, prepared by their guests in the classroom of Marianne Carrozza ‘96.

Lilek almost instantly saw the exchange experience as formative for her Spanish students. “This opened their eyes to a different culture and the power of world language…it showed them what language can do,” Lilek said. “I hope it inspires them to want to travel and continue to learn more.”

The bonds formed between hosts and guests was “heartwarming” to witness, Lilek said: “The relationships they’ve formed are so sweet…they’re genuinely best friends.”

Fenwick students are planning a spring break exchange trip to Argentina in March to reunite with their visitantes.